The Blog

When Daniel Coyle blogged about high-performance loafing several years ago one of the suggestions was to feed birds, fish, or squirrels. I couldn’t resist telling him how much fun Darrell and Katie and I have had watching squirrels eat ears of corn hung from a bungee. “We’ve gotten more enjoyment, penny for penny,” I told him, “from this ten-dollar contraption than anything in the past twenty years -- and I’m not kidding.”

He replied by saying they’d try it that day.

“It reminds me of a Canadian hotel I visited as a kid,” he continued. “They took matchbook-size pieces of cardboard, folded them into a V, and put peanut butter in the center. The squirrels picked them up, and it looked exactly as if they were reading tiny squirrel books.”

Doesn’t that create the sweetest picture in your mind? It almost makes me want to go camping!

“One winner, and twenty thousand losers.” It’s a Seinfeld joke about a marathon -- but it rings true, doesn’t it? Who remembers those winners, anyway? And the second-place finishers? Forget it.

Staying the CourseWell, except for Dick Beardsley at the 1982 Boston Marathon. But that’s another story.

When Katie was in elementary school a boy in her class told her how much he appreciated her telling people they got “fourth place” as opposed to “last place.” Which makes me want to travel back in time and give both of them a hug.

Once, during an outpatient surgical procedure, I was so embarrassed to have fallen asleep. What if I’d been snoring? “You weren’t snoring,” my doctor reassured me. “You were purring.” Purring! Can you imagine how much I love this man? Talk about healing.

You can preserve someone’s dignity with a well-chosen word. And, well, why not?

What Color Is Your Parachute? author Dick Bolles was forever fielding praise from people who said his book changed their lives. One day he asked a woman if she’d mind telling him what she meant by that. What part of the book changed her whole life?

Is this where I got the idea to occasionally ask Darrell or Katie to elaborate when they tell me something nice? Maybe! “What brought that on?” I’ll say. “Please. Tell me more!”

They’ve taken to asking the same of me. I love that.

It’s great when things work. It’s even better when you know why they work, so you can do more of it.

A boss I adored once admitted she’d broken her rule about not trashing someone (another colleague of ours) to someone else (me). “You know,” I told her, “I noticed that.” Pause. “But I’m always on the lookout for some sign you’re human, so honestly it was kind of reassuring.”

Her eyes lit up, and she laughed.

I’ve always been proud of that line. It was the truth, granted -- but still. It reminded me age has its rewards. You’re more likely to come up with the right thing to say in time.

That’s what heaven is, right? You get to do the same life over again, but you mess up fewer lines!

“You are now entering the disapproval chamber.” I used to make a point of saying that, almost out loud, back when I was working for a not-so-savory boss or spending time with people who are best loved (as the saying goes) from a distance.

It helped. It reminded me they had a right to their opinions, but not to my health. I donned an invisible disapproval-deflecting jacket, which -- corny as it sounds -- helped a lot, too.

One of the best things I ever did as I entered those disapproval chambers was pretend I was watching a movie, or remember that my life is a movie. Every good story has its share of villains. No sense railing against the very thing that keeps life interesting!

“‘Cheryl Strayed’ isn’t a name. It’s a sentence. And that hike felt contrived.”

tiny beautiful thingsI couldn’t get that assessment out of my head. It came from someone I couldn’t respect more, and it almost kept me from reading Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things again.

That would’ve been a big mistake. Big. Huge.

Strayed and I couldn’t be more different in many if not most ways. But this book? Oh! If you can handle the language you may be awestruck by the wisdom. I can’t tell you how often I’ve picked up a bestseller and thought, “Really?”

Not this time!

I’m fresh out of college, working for a big company, flying to Kansas City from Minneapolis for a meeting. At the Kansas City airport a gentleman strikes up a conversation with me. He’s, shall we say, gorgeous.

Gorgeous and well-mannered and the sweetest. Just the sweetest. We keep talking, and eventually discover I’m headed in the same direction he is. Would I like a ride from him to my hotel?

Well, sure. Nothing shady about this guy. I'm sure. And sure enough, the conversation in his rental car -- while lively -- is as respectful as it had been from the beginning. He does say, after learning I have the same engineering degree he does, that engineers didn’t look like me when he was going to school. But that’s as forward as it gets.

Back then I was telling my parents pretty much everything, so of course I told them how much money I’d saved the company by not taking a cab from the airport. To say my parents weren’t happy is a little bit of an understatement, but I didn’t think too much of it for the next thirty or forty years.

Then I watched the new movie about Ted Bundy.

I get it now.

“You look great!”

Nothing wrong with telling someone that, right?

Wrong.

If you’re saying it because the person is suddenly slender, he may wonder just how awful you thought he looked before. And unless you’re sure he owes the weight loss to a better diet and more exercise, definitely keep it zipped. Weight loss is small consolation to someone who’s seriously ill.

If you’re saying it to a woman who looks gorgeous, really gorgeous, without makeup -- but rarely goes without it -- go ahead and say it, but not so often she wonders if you don’t like her the way she apparently likes herself.

If you’re telling people in the office they look great, be prepared for at least the occasional person to take it the wrong way (read: a way you didn’t intend). It’s probably better to let the sparkle in your eyes tell people you’re happy to be working with them, and get back to work!